Originally published on GameInformer.com June 22, 2015, at 8:00 PM.
Selected for Blog Herding -- The Best Blogs of the Community, 6/25/15.
6,686 views as of June 4, 2018.
Update 6/4/18: Select screenshots from this pictorial appear at bottom.
My second day at the Electronic Entertainment Expo involved testing gaming equipment, checking out a few indie games and talking about Extra Life with its founder.
The first stop was Logitech's booth, which was set up with racing equipment. Steering wheels, pedals and a shifter were all connected to chairs and hooked up to TV screens. It's the kind of layout I wouldn't mind having in my make believe man-cave, provided I knew my way around any hairpin turn.
I am an arcade racer so testing equipment on a game with any semblance of realistic handling is a dicey proposition. The Logitech G29 Driving Force racing wheel was set up to play Driveclub, I think, and the sensitive mechanics assured that separating my poor skills from the game or wheel's design would be a challenge.
At first I was careening into walls or spinning out of control, and too often over-compensating out of a spin. How much to attribute to my skill or unfamiliarity with the software/hardware, the game's sensitive controls or the wheel's precision handling was debatable. Thankfully, I was able to improve with practice though still lagged the competition.
In the end the game did seem overly sensitive, at least for me, but that's not unlike my experience with some sim racers. Combined with my skill level and a lack of in-game driving assists, most of what went wrong likely could be attributed to the software or me.
As far as the racing wheel, the dual-motor force feedback action was on full display, especially during sharp turns whether I wiped out or managed to stay the course. The sharper the turn the more feedback, especially during spins or when fishtailing as the vibration suggested wheels locking up or losing grip.
The intensity of the feedback at times was in contrast to the sure grip I was able to maintain on the wheel, which not only had a comfortable design but benefitted from the hand-stitched leather rim. In time, using this in unison with the stainless steel throttle, brake and clutch pedals led to a more controlled racing experience.
Unlike some controls, the challenge was in using the throttle and brake pedals simultaneously, depressing one while easing off the other and vice versa. If there was any obvious issue with the equipment, it was the positioning of the pedals, with the clutch, brake and throttle in sequence from left to right.
This meant that I had to angle my left foot over the center pedal while my right foot was on the right pedal, and their close configuration added to the awkward position. Otherwise, once I got the feel down, the experience went more smoothly and I felt the wheel performed just fine (having never used one before, I can't compare to others past or present).
The Logitech G29 Driving Force is expected to release in July for a suggested retail price of $399.99.
My next appointment was with Daedalic Entertainment. The publisher, based in Hamburg, Germany, was spotlighting several new PC games from its roster. Valhalla Hills, a god game developed by Funatics, was the first title to be demoed, by producer Johannes Kiel, at Daedalic's booth.
The action takes place in a Viking civilization made up of randomized islands that are populated with AI-controlled Vikings. Players indirectly control their fate by helping them walk to a portal at the top of each island that will transport them to heaven (since they are otherwise prevented from entering Valhalla).
Challenges include building roads to the portal, creating campfires along the way, building mills and bakeries to make bread, digging mines, erecting hunting lodges, establishing military camps, and producing caravans between outposts.
Vikings can be personalized, with scores of different looks. Axe men and bowmen can be ordered, Jobs can be requested or assigned, such as defending against wolves or huge frost monsters. And once a profession such as woodcutter is unlocked, it is available on the next island. When Vikings reach each portal, it opens a new, different island.
The brief demo of Valhalla Hills showed off solid presentation values, with colorful features, quality animation and particle effects and decent interactivity.
Anna's Quest was created by Dane Krams and developed by him and Daedalic. It is a point-and-click 2D style adventure game that is inspired by dark European folklore along the lines of Grimm fairy tales. The emphasis is placed on dialog and a deep story, which is infused with dark adult humor.
The story itself involves main character Anna, who is on a quest to cure her ill grandfather. However, along the way she is captured by a witch and experimented upon. Those experiments result in her acquiring telekinetic abilities, which can aid her when crossing paths with the game's monsters, including nymphs, trolls and dragons.
Anna's Quest released July 2 on PC and Mac.
Corbie Games developed Bounty Train, which involves a variety of gameplay related to assembling and controlling a train. The studio's general manager, Yurij Ishchuk, demoed the game.
Train operation takes place during the era of the American Old West, though travel includes cities such as those in the Northeast (Boston, New York, etc.). Players are responsible for delivering cargo, trading goods and overcoming challenges like chases, ambushes and malfunctions along the way.
A lot of research into specific details and statistics helped form the foundation for the game, from how much coal is needed to operate the train to historical events of the era, which can be impacted depending on when your train arrives in a city (including the possibility of saving Lincoln from assassination).
How well you succeed depends on your preparation. In train stations, you can add or swap out carriages. You can also gather and manage your crew, which can level up or be upgraded. Taking a doctor and a healing carriage might help, or adding a cannon or Gatling carriage. But you also have to consider carriage weight, which can slow the train and increase travel time.
In the train station, inventory management menus appear well designed, allowing for easy train and crew control, whether working in menus or between them. Likewise, train operation in the countryside seems functional, with point-and-click gameplay in combat scenarios such as ambushes. But be advised that your crew risks permadeath in such situations, though members can later be replaced.
The Bounty Train demo ran smoothly, displaying nice graphics, smooth animation and responsive point-and-click control and interactivity. The sheer variety of gameplay options (including dialog choices), the level of detail, and the simple but deep inventory management all show promise. Steam early access should be available soon.
Skyhill is a rogue-like survival game developed by Mandragora. Players assume the role of a millionaire whose Skyhill Hotel penthouse includes safeguards that allowed him to survive a virus unleashed by biological warfare.
Gamers can explore the hotel's 297 rooms, which cost health points to enter and can include monsters (of which there are 10, each with different looks). Combat also diminishes one's health, so movement and action both have a risk/reward element to weigh. Crafting and sleeping also factor in to gameplay.
Rooms and enemies are randomly generated, so no two playthroughs are the same. Three different endings also encourage repeat playthroughs. Gameplay resembles a 2D side-scroller, though progress is from top to bottom via an internal stairwell, with options to move side to side when entering/exiting rooms. Combat appeared a simple hack and slash affair, though might vary. The presentation was solid overall.
As I was walking the show floor between appointments, I found a unique piece of hardware that made me stop and take notice. The Gamevice is a relatively large handheld device that looks like an oversized console controller. It features a large screen in the middle and otherwise traditional controller design to either side.
I was encouraged to try it out and found that it indeed had a familiar feel to it, with each grip featuring an analog stick and twin triggers. A directional pad on the left and four-key configuration on the right completed the standard design, with the exception of the wide screen separating the two grips.
I forget the game that was loaded, but the presentation was good and the action fast and responsive. The familiar configuration allowed me to get into the game right away, and the relatively lightweight design and comfortable grips and controls placement made transition from consoles easy and fun.
Perhaps I should have assumed that the controller held an iPad mini in between its grips, but I was surprised to find that that was the case. My gaming session was fairly flawless and devoid of any lag, which was important playing the shooter game that was installed on the tablet. The interface needless to say worked well. Gamevice is promising tech.
Last but by no means least was my conversation with Jeromy Adams, founder and managing director of Extra Life for Children's Miracle Network Hospitals. Jeromy was focused on milestones that the movement is regularly crossing.
In this, the eighth year of Extra Life's existence, a small fraction of the gaming world (Jeromy suggests as little as 0.1%) is on track to raise the most money ever on behalf of related hospitals. About 100,000 participants are expected for the Extra Life event this year.
Each year over the past three years, about $2 million was raised. Because of the organization's commitment that the money stays local, as much as $400,000 per year is contributed to some hospitals. Also thinking locally, there are now guild programs in 54 cities, meaning physical chapters that can do the work of local recruitment.
Twitch is now also an official sponsor, in addition to the participation of teams from companies such as Ubisoft, Treyarch and Reddit (as well as Team GIO, representing gameinformer.com). So far, 1,700 teams already have signed up for this year's event. And some companies are offering donations such as game codes (Team GIO has auction items and participation prizes each year).
Jeromy expects 2015 to be humongous for Extra Life, saying that this is the year to get involved. November 7 is the date of the gaming marathon fundraiser to benefit children's hospitals, which coincides with setting clocks back for a full 25 hours of playing games in order to heal kids.
He also notes the flexibility of the fundraiser. Gamers can make up the time any day(s) of the year, can extend their marathon or can choose to fund-raise in some other fashion. The book is closed on old school thinking related to fundraising -- what's important is doing what one wants to do to help kids, especially if that makes one happy in the process.
Extra Life began in 2008 as a way of honoring Victoria Enmon, who lost her battle with leukemia but inspired the gaming community with her courage and perseverance. The momentum that the movement has had ever since is a tribute to her, children like her, the hospitals that care for them and the generosity of gamers everywhere. "Tori's legacy won't stop," says Jeromy.
There was also a Bethesda Game Studios panel related to Fallout 4 that I attended for all of about 15 minutes before heading to an appointment. In attendance (L-R above) was Game Director Todd Howard, Lead Designer Emil Paglianulo, Lead Producer Jeff Gardiner and Lead Artist Istvan Pely.
Part of the early discussion involved the level of detail that they lavished on the project, beginning this presentation with an image of a control board down to labels for the buttons. The subsequent concept illustrations showed off the creativity of the artists and the designers in general.
But what topped off this year's event for me, and thrilled me more than seeing such luminaries as those above (including Steven Spielberg, whom I got a fleeting glimpse of), was my meeting with our very own Saint (Rich Dickinson, above). Longtime member and de facto Community Manager on gameinformer.com, he's been an inspiration to me.
Besides my admiration for his service as a naval officer, his contributions in service to our community have been incalculable, including starting the important Blog Herding weekly feature and the unofficial Member Herding blog. But his humble demeanor, commitment, enthusiasm and, above all, encouragement and support is what have most impressed me.
That wraps up my reporting from E3 for this year. Thanks for reading my blogs, and supporting the community!
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